Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Federal Critical Caribou Map Overlaps Massive Carbon Stores

The Canadian government released a science report last week that identified the critical habitat of the boreal woodland caribou, confirming the need to protect at least half of Canada's entire boreal region in order to prevent the extinction of any additional herds of this threatened species.

Of the 57 herds assessed, the report concludes that 21 are in need of active habitat restoration efforts, 25 require active habitat conservation and 11 are healthy enough that they could tolerate some additional development in their habitat.

If the boreal woodland caribou's habitat were protected, this would also protect much of one of the World's biggest carbon stores - the intact boreal forests and peatlands of Canada. This is because these carbon rich ecosystems are the primary habitat of this threatened species.

For more information, visit www.caribouandyou.ca

Friday, April 17, 2009

Scientific Report on Climate Change Impacts Supports Forest Protection

A report was released yesterday predicting serious impacts of climate change on forests and discussing management strategies to help forests adapt.

Although by no means highlighted by the authors or the accompanying media release, one of the most interesting findings to me is that 'protecting primary forests' and 'reducing forest degradation and deforestation' stand out among the management strategies as having the highest scientific support and agreement for conserving biodiversity and to prevent future emissions from forests that would otherwise accelerate climate change. Check out Appendices 6.2 and 6.7 on pages 172 and 181 of the main report.

Here are some Canadian media stories that have resulted from the report:

Edmonton Journal

Vancouver Sun

Globe and Mail

Calgary Herald

Ottawa Citizen

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Coalition Launches New Website to Support Implementation of One of the World's Greatest Conservation Announcements

There's been a great new website launched by the Ontario Boreal Futures Coalition in an effort to secure protective legislation for Ontario's far north. This legislation would be the implementation of Premier McGuinty's major conservation announcement last Summer written about in one of my previous blog posts. On the main site you can read about and support this important initiative.

The site also contains a fantastic virtual tour of the region. The Aboriginal narrator is from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI), located in the heart of this region. There is also a boreal scrap book where you can post stories and pictures from your adventures in Ontario's boreal north.

Map source: http://borealopportunity.ca/maps.php

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Forests in or out of carbon markets?

At the Bonn Climate Change Talks last week, Johnathon Pershing, the White House's new Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change gave a briefing to non-governmental organizations.

One of his comments was discreet but thought provoking. In response to a comment from Greenpeace International expressing concern over inclusion of deforestation credits within a fully fungible carbon market, Pershing offered this (I'm paraphrasing): it may make sense to include some kinds of forest credits in the market, and not others.

What might this mean for forest offsets in Canada and the United States? Would forest management contribute offsets to the 2 billion tons of offsets available to capped sectors under congressman Waxman's draft American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009?

It's an important and provocative question: what kinds of forest credits should be included, and under what conditions?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Scale of Impact Negotiated Bars Could Have on National Emissions Accounts

I presented the results of an ititial calculation done today by the Climate Action Network. The presentation of these results begins at about the 6 minute mark of the media conference webcast and resumes with a follow-up question at 16:30.

Here is the text of the statement:

An idea put forward by the European Union (EU) at the Bonn Climate Change Talks could introduce a loophole that would result in countries not being accountable for some of their emissions from forest management. The EU introduced the concept of “The Bar,” which would be a reference against which countries would measure their forestry emissions. The potential loophole results from the option that countries could negotiate their own “bar”. This could be like getting to start a football match with your team four-nil up. So far, no details have been released about how this loophole might be constrained.

Climate Action Network released an initial calculation today illustrating a potentially significant impact of this flexibility on the emission accounts of industrialized countries. In order to calculate the impact this flexibility would have on the scale of forest carbon credits for industrialized countries, CAN looked at sixteen years of historic emissions (1990 – 2006) for thirty-six industrialized nations (not including USA), using the last five years as a hypothetical commitment period.

In measuring the size of the potential loophole, CAN considered the relative impact of setting a weak and an strong bar. The strong bar was set as the lowest level of historic emissions, meaning countries would be expected to do even better than this. The weak bar was the highest level of historic emissions, creating little expectation for improvement. We also compared the accounting impact of these two scenarios to the current accounting rules for forest management.

The accounting difference between the strong bar and the weak bar was roughly seven billion tons of CO2. This range corresponds to roughly twelve percent of total emission allowances for the first commitment period. The weak bar produced 2.8 billion tons of CO2 credits more than would be created with the current rules for forest management.[1] This 2.8 billion ton increase corresponds to roughly five percent of total emission allowances for the first commitment period. Our calculation did not consider other improvements in the forest accounting rules that might be made. In all scenarios, the actual emissions to the atmosphere were the same, but the method would make a massive difference in the level of accountability of countries.

Creating a disconnect between accounting and real changes in emissions would not provide the proper signals for governments to unlock the mitigation potential from forest management. These numbers also illustrate the very significant impact that this potential accounting loophole could have on a Party’s overall emission reduction target.

This potential loophole could be most effectively closed by removing the ability of Parties to negotiate their own ‘bar’.

[This has also been published as an article in ECO - see issue 10 from Bonn I, 2009]

[1] The strong bar resulted in 820 Mt of carbon debits. The weak bar resulted in 1113 Mt credits of carbon. Application of the current rules for forest management, which include gross-net accounting with a cap would result in a credit of approximately 349 Mt of carbon if all countries included in the Appendix of Decision 16/CMP.1elected to account for forest management. Application of net-net accounting with a 1990 base year would result in a credit of 189 Mt of carbon.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Lively Discussion and a Draft Text

The side event I had organized yesterday for the Climate Action Network on LULUCF was a huge success. The room was packed with delegates from Japan, Tuvalu, the EU, USA, Korea, Turkey.

The event was billed as an opportunity to come hear CAN's detailed views on LULUCF and also discuss two new proposals on the table here in Bonn: the EU's "bar" and a very interesting submission from Tuvalu which included the idea of mandatory accounting of 'forest biomass decline,' as well as industrialized countries accepting accounting debits or emissions from wood that may have been imported from deforestation in developing countries.

There was lively, open and interesting discussion and debate following the presentations and we were blessed with the participation of the originators of these two ideas from the EU and Tuvalu.

Later in the afternoon there was a closed 'informal' LULUCF discussion amongst the Parties and the co-chairs of this group produced a draft text in the form of a 'non-paper' (just for discussion). It's the first attempt to put all the options in the form of legal text and is in that respect a step forward. But most of the various options for dealing with LULUCF are still represented somehow in this paper.

'The Bar' is there, including the prospect that each country could negotiate its own 'bar' against which forest management compliance is measured. Some of the interesting elements of Tuvalu's proposal are there too, but the 'forest biomass decline' concept is only partly intact.

Parties will meet one more time informally tomorrow morning and then openly in a contact group in the afternoon.

Friday, April 3, 2009

EU Wins a "Fossil of the Day" for The Bar

The European Union won a 'fossil of the day' yesterday from the Climate Action Network (CAN) for the idea of 'the bar' that it has been promoting in these negotiations...

During the United Nations climate change negotiations, members of CAN vote give regular 'fossil of the day' awards to the countries judged to have done their 'best' to block progress in the negotiations in the last days of talks.

Here is the text of a media release from CAN explaining the award to the EU:

"To the EU: For proposing "The Bar," a method for measuring emissions from the forest sector that could complicate negotiations on national targets and could give industrialized nations carbon credit for forest degradation.

In the contact group discussion yesterday on land use, land-use change and forestry, the EU put forward an idea that amounts to allowing any industrialized nation that chooses, to propose where its baseline will be for measuring changes in emissions from the forest sector. This would be akin to allowing countries to propose their own base year for assessing fossil fuel emission reductions. In a worst case scenario, this could allow countries to put its baseline of forest carbon low, degrade forest carbon stocks, and get carbon credit for it.

A further concern is that if this negotiation of country-specific ‘bars’ does not happen quickly enough, it could also distort the meaning of country-wide emission reduction targets."

Although 'the bar' could be promoted as a standard approach for all countries, a central element of the EU proposal is that any country could negotiate its own bar.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Countries discuss new activities their new ideas for LULUCF

The first 'contact group' on LULUCF was today in Bonn. A contact group is like plenary but smaller... and there's no translation... and usually observers cannot make statements... and its more focused on details.

So today some details came out on some new proposal that Parties have made for changes in LULUCF:

  • Tuvalu proposed that devegetation and 'forest biomass decline' be added as new activities. As the name suggests, 'Forest Biomass Decline' is basically any activity that causes a reduction in forest carbon stocks. It is presented as a politically more palatable alternative to 'forest degradation.' You can read Tuvalu's submission, it's really interesting and clever.
  • The EU formally presented its idea about The Bar. Here's the summary: a default baseline would be selected for use by all Parties based on historic carbon fluxes (e.g. 1990, 2008, etc.). Increases (credits) and decreases (debits) in the carbon sink would be measured relative to this baseline (it is a form of net-net accounting, explained in a previous post). Here's the big BUT: A Party would be free to negotiate an alternative baseline if this didn't fit their national circumstances, in particular for example if the country was forecast to have a declining rate of carbon sequestration. This is the problem of most concern to my and my colleagues here - negotiating alternate bars could delay the process and would most likely lead to perverse outcomes designed to suit the interests of the Party ('more credits, please'). In the worse case scenario, these bars get negotiated after the Copenhagen deal is struck and they can be used to undo the Party's national target.
  • Finally, Canada presented its proposal that it should not account for emissions/removals from croplands if they have become saturated with carbon. There was mixed reaction to this in the room, but I tend to agree with the view that we have to stop engineering outcomes and just account for emissions.

The next meeting will be informal, which means it is closed to observers. All we know for sure is on the agenda is wetland management as a new activity.

Oh, and I should make a note on process: the co-chairs of the discussion proposed to put together a 'non-paper' (unofficial) that attempts to collapse some of the LULUCF options being negotiated so some progress can be made towards an agreement.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Critical to have Land Use and Forestry Rules Before Setting National Target: Annex 1 Parties

In the negotiations yesterday on setting the emission reduction target for industrialized nations, several Parties made the point that it was essential to first figure out the rules for land use, land-use change and forestry. The reason is clear: industrialized nations won't know what contribution this sector can make to reducing emissions before the rules are set. There's an even better reason to make sure things happen in this order: if you set the targets first, you can develop a set of rules that allow you to generate lots of 'hot air' credits from LULUCF - credits that have no bearing on what the atmosphere sees but are designed simply to make it easier to meet your overall target. This is what happened in Kyoto.

There's a hint that Parties may even be getting more brash. The hallways are buzzing with a new idea called 'the bar'. According to one interpretation, it would allow countries to negotiate a compliance threshold for LULUCF that gets them however many credits they think they need to meet their stated emission reduction targets at home. Are removals from forests declining? Set your bar even lower and you can generate credits rather than debits!

Even under the more cautious interpretations I've heard, some level of negotiation of the bar is permitted.

There is no formal proposal on the table yet for the bar but the Chair of the negotiations under the Kyoto Protocol seems to think it holds promise...